I AM NOT A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL…YET
THIS IS ALL MY PERSONAL OPINION
When I take a moment to myself that isn’t considered relatively productive, I feel guilty. With every spa day, every Netflix movie marathon and unscheduled naptime, my brain does a 180 and turns on me; “stop wasting your time! What are you doing?” I think about all of the tasks that I could have been doing; maybe I could have started academically preparing for my next collegiate chapter, or applied to the jobs that are saved to my LinkedIn account…perhaps introduced myself to understanding the complex inter workings of organic chemistry, I don’t know, anything but relishing in enjoyment. Genuinely, when I am engaging in a morsel of anything that is considered fun…I can’t fully let myself be in that moment. When participating in productive activities, sometimes my body warns me that I have over exerted myself. I respond to this by ignoring it and continuing on. I’m not really sure where it stems from, and as a future mental health counselor, I’m pretty sure I am going to pinpoint the cause eventually…I’m going to have to. I never feel like I am doing enough, so I’ll stay up those extra hours jotting down notes while my eyes lower and my head begins to nod. I’ll be tempted to get in bed, but everyone knows that you’re basically asking for an early bedtime. Whether it’s work, school, or other obligations, when we are constantly trying to meet deadlines and exceed people’s expectations with our work and abilities without resting, we can easily burn ourselves out.
The idea behind burnout has developed for quite some time now, as there really is no standard definition of what burnout is, as well as a specific diagnostic criteria. When we typically categorize burn out, we think of exhaustion, fatigue, maybe some irritability, listlessness, and even depersonalization. With the series of events that we have gone through collectively…it wouldn’t be abnormal if a few of us experienced these characteristics, as well as others that are personal to us. For me, it feels like my body and my emotions go entirely numb. I don’t want to do anything or talk to anyone, but I try my best to ignore how my mind is reacting. The last two semesters of undergrad consisted of me flying into fits of panic as I tried to finish six classes, neglecting the fact that I was crying myself to sleep every night and eating as much as a snack maybe once a day. I was wearing myself thin, but I thought that was the right thing to do. As a society, a lot of the time we associate success and self worth based on our achievements, and how hard we strive to reach them. We’ve become slaves to this rise and grind culture; no matter who you are, where you’re from, if you aren’t actively being slaves to capitali…ahem, I meant “productive” members of society, you are wasting sweet precious time. Pushing yourself to the limit is seen as a badge of honor and admirable in the sense that you are literally driving yourself insane in the name of productivity. Being ready to work all the time is exhausting…trust me I’ve tried it. I was so present for other people, that I left myself the scraps; I had no energy to do anything for myself anymore. I’ve heard the question, “how can I give my all to others when I don’t give my all to myself?” all the time, and it is such a great question to ask and to be asked. Simply, you can’t! It’s impossible…no one person has that much energy.
As a black woman, I understand all too well the push through it mentality. We are expected to suffer and do so with a smile because apparently that is our nature. The Strong Black Woman stereotype is such a damaging one, as this notion is still being perpetuated in society. I will certainly write a article about this topic soon, as this topic deserves its own space. Of Haitian and Japanese heritage, Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open, and more recently Wimbledon, has caused some controversy. People couldn’t fathom someone at that high of a caliber putting their mental health at the forefront…how dare she? She knew what she was getting herself into, right? Those waves of anxiety she endures are going to have to take a back seat…just swing your racquet and interview like everyone else who plays tennis. Those are some comments that I have seen when discussing the issue and quite frankly, I wasn’t shocked. Boundaries are foreign to a lot of us; so many entitled individuals these days. The push through it mentality can be seen as a good thing at times. When there are desires and dreams that seem like they are too far to touch, sometimes pushing through your own naysaying and negativity can allow you to complete something wonderful. Pushing through can be a sign of great strength and great triumph, but we don’t necessarily need to take risks every chance we get; sometimes taking a breather is the real risk. If Naomi Osaka completely ignored her mental health, who’s to say what would happen? Who knows how this could have affected her long term. Maybe we aren’t record breaking tennis players, but I’m sure many of us can relate on a smaller scale. Maybe you’ve been asked to take on yet another project at work while you’re already working on three. Maybe you have been studying for your MCAT exam for eight hours straight and your starting to go cross-eyed from all the information on biochemical foundations and living systems you’re consuming. Maybe you’re about to see your in-laws who know that you and your partner are having trouble conceiving but always ask you why you guys don’t have children yet…you just don’t want to deal with it. So…if you have the ability to do so, don’t deal with it; put your foot down and set boundaries with others and with yourself.
Setting boundaries is something that I struggle with, so this post is basically a call out for me…by me. In the past, I have ignored crucial self reflection. Why? Because I want to imagine myself as this perfect person who never makes mistakes. Since that isn’t true, I am going to dive head first into my strengths…fine, and my weaknesses also…the very few that I possess. When it comes to setting boundaries, I fail to actually articulate them. I’ll create them in my head, for example, I don’t like when people yell at me. When people yell at me, I either shut down and cry or match that energy and yell back. Let’s say someone yells at me, and I am affected by that. Instead of telling the person that they crossed a line with me, I’ll just stop talking to them completely. I know that I have a hard time speaking up for myself, so I start small and specifically work on this issue. If an opportunity arises where I am able to stand up for something…I’ll take it, no matter how small it might be. In the past, I also used to take people setting boundaries with me as a personal attack, but now, I realize that everyone needs to protect themselves, and I should follow suit. I’ll practice setting boundaries on little things. “Hey, you want to grab drinks with me after work?” “I would love to, but I have some tasks I need to catch up on. Maybe some other time.” “You should buy the black shirt instead of the white one.” “That’s a cute shirt, but I really like the white one.” No is a boundary also; saying no is enough. Sometimes I don’t want to stress these boundaries, but I know that if I don’t continue practicing, it’s easy to slip back into old habits; be persistent. You may feel guilty at first, but once you realize how much easier your life is getting when not dealing with unnecessary bullsh*t, you’ll never want to quit. When setting boundaries, communication is key. I’m a Gemini with an air dominant natal chart…if you want to get something across to me, use your words and speak! When we set boundaries that are way too flexible, that can completely defeat the purpose of stating a boundary to begin with; be clear and concise. Going back to self reflection, one of the questions your ask yourself while reflecting is, “what are my wants and my needs?” I know that for me, I want someone who doesn’t interrupt me when I am speaking, and I need them to listen attentively to me. Maybe you need your friend to respect the fact that you require alone time and you want them to give you some space sometimes. Maybe in relationships, you need some form of communication daily and want your partner to sometimes cater to your love language. It may look different for us all, but everyone has something that they require…you have time to figure out what yours are. Of course, while being solid on your boundaries, respect other peoples as well.
Tying it back to the push through it mentality, setting boundaries with ourselves and others can help reduce burnout significantly. High stress levels result in the elevation of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. This can in turn create internal trauma in the body and result in many health problems. I have to remind myself that it is okay to take breaks and that it’s okay to say no until I cease to become guilty for it. You are in control of yourself, so handle yourself with care.
Featured photo: @rinnyriot